Kvantiteetti ja aika II. Nominaalinen aspekti ja suomen predikatiivin sijanvaihtelu

  • Tuomas Huumo


Quantity and time II: Nominal aspect and the case marking of the Finnish predicate nominal (englanti)

1/2007 (111)

Quantity and time II: Nominal aspect and the case marking of the Finnish predicate nominal

The article discusses nominal aspect as expressed in the Finnish copulative clause construction, in which the case marking of the predicate adjective (PA) indicates that the subject is understood as either a bounded entity (being a count noun) or an unbounded entity (being a mass noun). This can be seen in the opposition between Pyt on pyre [table.NOM be.PRES.3SG round.NOM] The table is round and Kahvi on musta+a [coffee.NOM be.PRES.3SG black+PAR] The coffee is black. In the first example the subject is a count noun and requires the PA to take the nominative case, whereas in the second example the subject is a mass noun and requires a partitive PA. In Finnish linguistics it has been argued that the nominative PA characterises the subject in a holistic way and attributes a quality to the referent of the subject as a whole, whereas the partitive PA expresses a distributive characterisation where the quality is independently attributed to each component of the subjects referent.

The writer argues that the distributive meaning of the partitive PA often reflects a subjective dynamic conceptualisation, where the referent of the subject is scanned through in a serial way by the conceptualiser. In such cases it is not the nature of the subject as such but the nature of the conceptualisation that motivates the case selection. This can be seen in the following example, taken from a newspaper interview with a car driver who had been in an accident on an icy road: Tie+n pinta ol+i lasi+mais+ta [road+GEN surface.NOM be+PST.3SG glass+like+PAR] The road surface was like glass. Since the (whole) road surface is a bounded entity, the PA might be expected to take the nominative case, but the function of the partitive in this example is to reflect the nature of the experience of the driver, who is actually moving along the surface and encountering it in an incremental manner. This evokes a subjective serial conceptualisation of the road surface, even though the roads icy condition is continuous and holistic.

The temporal sequentiality associated with the distributive interpretation is even more striking in copulative clauses which have an action noun as their subject. An action noun is a noun derived from a verb, and it profiles an action or event as lacking the temporality of a finite verb. The meaning of the action noun will be affected not only by the derivative affix and the degree of lexicalisation but also by the semantic nature of the stem verb from which it is derived, with some of the verbal semantic features of the stem verb being replaced by corresponding nominal features in the action noun. More precisely, the aspectual nature of the stem verb (bounded vs. unbounded) may be reflected in the count/mass distinction of the action noun. A general tendency is that action nouns derived from punctual, aspectually bounded verbs behave like count nouns in the copulative construction, taking the nominative PA, whereas action nouns derived from atelic verbs resemble mass nouns and take the partitive PA. In some cases both the nominative and the partitive are possible, although there may be a difference in meaning in the action noun subject: the nominative PA requires the action noun subject to be a count noun, thus designating a bounded event, whereas the partitive PA requires the subject to be a mass noun, designating an unbounded activity. An action noun that behaves like a count noun in a copulative clause profiles the whole action at one time, whereas an action noun behaving like a mass noun profiles the action in a progressive manner.

It is argued that since activities are distributed in time rather than space, the distributive reading evoked by the partitive now necessarily (not optionally as with canonical nouns) requires a temporal order for the conceptualisation of the components. This is demonstrated by an interesting constraint in the use of durative modifiers in copulative clauses with an action noun subject: Hevose+n juoksu ol+i nopea+a/*nopea tunni+n [horse+GEN run be+PST.3SG fast+PAR/*NOM hour+ACC] For an hour, the horses run was swift. In this example, only the partitive and not the nominative PA is compatible with the durative modifier for an hour. This is because intuitively the nominative PA would require the subject to be interpreted as a count noun, designating a bounded event, but, as is well known in the linguistic study of aspect, bounded events cannot be re-bounded by durative modifiers (e.g. *John found the book for a second is awkward). The partitive PA in turn allows the action noun subject to be interpreted as a mass noun, indicating an unbounded event, thus permitting use of a durative modifier in the same way as in the unbounded John ran for an hour. The problem, however, is that action nouns are not verbs, and therefore they should not determine the aspectual contour of the clause. Instead, the aspectual meaning of a copulative clause should always be profiled by the copula verb to be, which is aspectually unbounded. Hence, all copulative constructions ought to allow direct durative modifiers. However, the use of durative modifiers is constrained due to the nominal aspect of the action noun. The distributive interpretation evoked by the partitive PA necessarily causes a serial scanning of the subjects referent because the referent is an event with a temporal extension. The situation resembles that found in sentences with an incremental theme, e.g. John ate the cake, where it is not the activity of eating as such but the quantitative extension of the cake that makes the situation bounded in time.

Tuomas Huumo

tammi 1, 2007
Huumo, T. (2007). Kvantiteetti ja aika II. Nominaalinen aspekti ja suomen predikatiivin sijanvaihtelu. Virittäjä, 111(1), 3. Noudettu osoitteesta https://journal.fi/virittaja/article/view/40540